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  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a pattern of alcohol use that includes alcohol abuse, binge drinking, heavy drinking, and continuing to drink alcohol despite the physical and mental health problems it causes.

    If you’re worried you or a loved one suffers from an alcohol problem, learn more about the signs and symptoms of AUD.

    What Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

    Alcohol use disorder involves a pattern of behavior that includes problems controlling the amount of alcohol you drink. 

    You might be preoccupied with alcohol, continue to drink even when it worsens a health condition, have to drink more to get the same effect than you used to, or experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking.

    AUD & The DSM-5

    This disorder is fairly recent as, in 2013, the American Psychiatric Association came out with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). The DSM-5 combined alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, integrating them into one disorder: alcohol use disorder.

    If your pattern of problem drinking prevents normal functioning in your daily life, you likely have alcohol use disorder. It can range from mild to severe, but even a mild case can lead to serious problems.

    Signs Of Alcohol Use Disorder

    The signs of alcohol use disorder can be obvious, like empty bottles lying around or daily heavy drinking. They can also include things that are less noticeable like anxiety, financial problems, or mood changes.

    Some common signs of AUD include:

    • alcohol withdrawal symptoms like nausea, racing heart, headache, seizures, vomiting, and trouble sleeping
    • compulsive/self-destructive behavior
    • wanting to cut down on how much you drink but being unsuccessful
    • spending a lot of time drinking alcohol or thinking about drinking
    • failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home due to the effects of alcohol
    • loss of interest in things that don’t include drinking
    • slurred speech
    • frequent  hangovers
    • legal problems related to alcohol
    • diminishing levels of hygiene
    • secretive behavior, like hiding drinking habits

    Symptoms Of Alcohol Use Disorder

    The symptoms of alcohol use disorder include things you might have seen in people who have had too much to drink. The difference is that these symptoms persist and don’t go away because alcohol consumption continues. It’s not just a one-night occurrence.

    Some symptoms of AUD may include:

    • blackouts
    • dizziness
    • shakiness
    • cravings
    • sweating
    • aggression
    • agitation
    • anxiety
    • nausea
    • vomiting
    • fear
    • problems with coordination
    • tremors
    • slow reflexes
    • poor decision-making abilities

    Alcohol use disorder can also lead to disorders and illnesses that are even more life-threatening like:

    • cancer
    • liver disease or cirrhosis
    • gastritis
    • pancreatitis
    • high blood pressure
    • birth defects
    • osteoporosis
    • weakened immune system
    • alcohol poisoning

    Risk Factors For Alcohol Use Disorder

    There are a number of risk factors that can lead to alcohol use disorder. That being said, none of these things mean you’re going to get it for sure. It simply means you may be more prone to it than others.

    Some common risk factors include:

    • steady drinking over time: drinking too much on a regular basis for an extended period can lead to alcohol use disorder
    • starting at an early age: people who begin drinking at an early age are at a higher risk of alcohol use disorder
    • family history: the risk of alcohol use disorder is higher for people who have family members who live with alcohol addiction 
    • mental health problems: it can be common for people with a mental health disorder like anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder to have problems with alcohol use
    • history of trauma: people with a history of trauma have an increased risk of alcohol use disorder
    • social and cultural factors: having friends or a close partner who drinks regularly can increase the risk of alcohol use disorder

    Treatment For Alcohol Use Disorder

    Addiction treatment for alcohol use disorder is similar to other forms of substance abuse treatment. 

    It focuses on helping you learn ways to control the disease and practice abstinence.

    Treatment for alcohol use disorder can include therapy, medication, learning new coping skills, and finding healthy ways to manage stress.

    Medication-Assisted Treatment

    A treatment provider can sometimes prescribe medications like acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone to reduce withdrawal symptoms or help you quit drinking. 

    Some medications block the feeling of intoxication and/or makes you feel sick when alcohol enters the body, while others help reduce cravings. 

    If you’re prescribed medication for alcohol use disorder, you’ll also likely attend other treatment services like support groups or counseling.

    Support groups

    Having support increases your chances of recovery. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) provide support and a community of people who are in a similar position.

    Inpatient/Outpatient Treatment

    Residential or inpatient alcohol treatment allows you to detox, see a therapist, go to group therapy, and learn skills and strategies for staying sober all under the same roof.

    The same can be said for outpatient treatment, but you don’t stay at the treatment center 24/7. You get to go home after each treatment session.

    If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol misuse, you don’t have to deal with it alone. Call our helpline today to learn more about the best treatment options for you.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Alcohol Use Disorder: A Comparison Between DSM–IV and DSM–5
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder
    National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
    National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Alcohol use disorder

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on August 9, 2022
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